Trait Approaches

Like humanistic theorists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, Allport identified vital characteristics of mature persons. His list of the characteristics of mature persons overlaps substantially with Maslow's enumeration of the qualities of self-actualizing persons and Rogers's definition of the "person of tomorrow." Allport's list includes extension of the sense of self (identifying with events and persons outside oneself), emotional security, realistic perception, insight and humor, and a unifying philosophy of life.

Allport developed his theory at a time when other trait approaches that were based on nomothetic study were gaining prominence. Whereas Allport emphasized individual uniqueness, Raymond Cattell identified twenty-three source traits, or building blocks of personality, and Hans Eysenck identified three primary dimensions of extroversion, neuroticism, and psy-choticism. Within the nomothetic tradition, more recent researchers have reexamined earlier nomothetic trait theories and have identified five primary common dimensions of personality: surgency (active/dominant persons versus passive/submissive persons), agreeableness (one's warmth or coldness), conscientiousness (one's level of responsibility or undependa-bility), emotional stability (unpredictability versus stability), and culture (one's intellectual understanding of the world). Allport would have found these efforts to identify basic dimensions of personality to have limited usefulness for defining and understanding individual personality styles.

Recent criticisms of trait approaches that emphasize universal characteristics of people indicate that these approaches underestimate the role of situations and human variability and change across different contexts. Furthermore, those approaches that focus on general traits provide summaries and demonstrate trends about behavior but do not provide explanations for behavior.

The awareness that general trait approaches are inadequate for predicting behavior across situations has led to a resurgence of interest in the types of idiographic research methods proposed by Allport. Approaches to personality have increasingly acknowledged the complexity of human beings and the reality that individuals are influenced by a wide array of features that are often contradictory and inconsistent. Allport's emphasis on the scientific study of unique aspects of personality provided both the inspiration and a general method for examining the singular, diverse variables that define human beings.

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